More than 20 years ago, a painting by Gustav Klimt was stolen from a modern art gallery in Piacenza, Italy. It seemed the painting had vanished as the decades went by and nothing more about it was discovered. That was until yesterday when the gallery’s gardener found a painting in the walls of the gallery.
On February 22, 1997, Portrait of a Lady by Klimt went missing from the Ricci-Oddi modern art gallery in Piacenza. It was taken during renovations for an upcoming exhibition, in which the Klimt painting was meant to be the focal point. The frame of the painting was found that day on the roof of the gallery potentially to mislead investigators but there was no sign of the painting.
Then, yesterday, one of Ricci-Oddi’s gardeners was clearing away ivy from one of the gallery’s walls when he discovered a metal panel in the wall. Curious, he opened the panel and found a black bag inside a small recess. Initially thinking the bag was rubbish, he decided to look inside. When he did, he found a painting that many now believe to be the stolen Klimt, which is valued at around €60 million (£50 million). It has yet to be confirmed as to if the painting is definitely Klimt’s work, however, many are hopeful, including art critic Vittorio Sgarbi who told the Corriere della Sera: ‘Recovering the Portrait, an intense and lifelike work, is the best Christmas present.’
In addition to authenticating the painting, police are also looking into how long the painting has been in the gallery’s walls. If it has been hidden there since the robbery, police believe it could have been hidden there by the robber(s) who intended to return after news that the painting was stolen died down. Head of the carabinieri unit for protecting cultural heritage, Gen Roberto Riccardi, has cautioned that the painting has not been fully recognized as Klimt’s work.
The potential recovery of Portrait of a Lady is some good news after a number of recent art world thefts. Just a couple of months ago, a painting by Salvador Dalí was taken from a San Francisco gallery when a man simply walked in and walked out with the small work on sale for $20,000. Also, in September, America, the golden toilet by Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan (whose banana artwork turned heads at Art Basel Miami) was taken from Blenheim Palace. Fears are that America, which is cast in 18-karat gold, has been melted down for materials. As of now, neither of these works have been recovered, but hopefully, the potential discovery of Portrait of a Lady, thought to be long-gone after 23 years missing, gives some hope for the recovery of other artworks.
Update: On January 17, 2020, experts concluded that the painting found in the gallery’s wall was in fact Portrait of a Lady by Gustav Klimt.
For more on art thefts and recoveries…